Talking about change is always easier than actually changing. Maybe that’s why I’ve chosen to write about it; I am a better writer than practitioner. But the gospel demands my belief in the possibility of change. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans chapters 6, 7, and 8 that we have been set free from sin, that it no longer has dominion over us, and have been transformed by the death of Christ. Change is a real possibility for me even now as I struggle this side of the cross with sin. But it begins in the mental battlefield of my though life. What you think about affects your transformation. That is why Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2a). And that is why I take people to Philippians chapter 4 for help.
Philippians 4:4-9 is really directed towards our anxiety, but it can be broadly applied. In the opening verses Paul tells the church to look beyond their circumstances and find the God who is trustworthy and reliable and near. And in light of that he says, “rejoice always.” In verses 6-7 he tells us to stop worrying. He writes:
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
There is a way to read these verses and a way to communicate their truth that sounds not simply cliché, but actually completely insensitive and hollow.
I am reminded of the old Bobby McFerrin song “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” I don’t know if you find this song as annoying as I do, but it is at least a completely asinine expression. After all there’s so much to worry about, so many things that are real threats, problems, concerns, etc. While most of us would readily admit that worrying doesn’t actually fix problems, we nonetheless feel compelled to worry about the problem until we find the solution. There is a way to communicate the right idea (don’t worry) in a way that feels empty and insensitive. “Have cancer? Don’t worry, be happy.” “Wife left you? Don’t worry, be happy.” “Child having emergency surgery? Don’t worry, be happy.” Is that what Paul is doing here? Is he giving us some pre-Reggae, positive-thinking hymn? I don’t think so.
Look at the language Paul uses here. It’s not an arbitrary and empty imperative. The command is “don’t be anxious,” but there’s a second command: take it to the Lord in prayer. Worry itself can fix nothing, but the God of the universe can fix anything. So, Paul says, pray. And he gives us a promise, a surprising one, in conjunction with obedience. As we pray the “peace of God” will guard our hearts and minds. What an absolutely breath-taking though. Peace, particularly God’s peace, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds. That’s a phenomenal promise.
Our hearts are besieged by worry, enslaved by it, tormented by anxiety. But when we take our worries to God in prayer his peace will protect us. It can build up a wall around our hearts and minds to keep us from sin, to keep us focused on him, to grant us a confidence that everything will work out to His glory and ultimately our good.
This doesn’t, of course, guarantee that everything will work out the way we want it to. But it does guarantee us something greater. God loves us and He is doing what he knows is best. Part of our struggle with sin is really an idolatry issue. We want to be God. We take charge of our life in a way that suggests fundamentally everything is up to us and our plans must come to fruition or else we will despair. But the Bible says the way to true peace is to trust in God and surrender your control (and in relation to that, your anxiety). His peace will guard us even when circumstances don’t change, even when we feel our grip on autonomy slipping away. God is God and when we grasp this and surrender to it not only do we give up anxiety, but ultimately we will give up idolatry.
May the peace of God guard your hearts and minds this day, friends.